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Poster: steam locomotive Date: Apr 20, 2010 9:34am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: The Dead and VU -- separated at birth

I never realized the DP26 show included a headlining Velvet Underground. In retrospect, the bands probably shared more in common at the time than most might imagine.

Also, I' betting that hearing Sister Ray back-to-back with What's Become of the Baby probably induced schizophrenia in a few audience members.

The Kinetic Playground, Chicago, April 25-27, 1969: For the second and last time, the Velvet Underground shared a bill, unbelievably, with their ultimate antithesis in attitude, the Grateful Dead. According to Doug Yule's recollection in the fall/winter 1994 edition of the fanzine The Velvet Underground, "That show the Dead opened for us, we opened for them the next night so that no one could say they were the openers. As you know, the Grateful Dead play very long sets and they were supposed to only play for an hour. We were up in the dressing room and they're playing for an hour and a half and, hour and 45 minutes. So the next day when we were opening for them, Lou says, 'Huh, watch this.' And we proceeded to play a very long set. We did 'Sister Ray' for like an hour and then a whole other show." But for all the differences between the Velvets and the Dead, they do share one thing in common: sheer volume. "There was a guy standing over by the sound mixing board, and somebody said, 'that's [Grateful Dead soundman] Owsley,'" remembers Milwaukee radio DJ Bob Reitman. "I walked over to him and said, 'Are you Owsley?' He turned to me to answer, and the whole sound system just—and it probably was him—it's like somebody turned the whole thing up so loud that we couldn't hear each other. We just looked at each other and shrugged."

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Apr 20, 2010 12:47pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Velvet Underground (long post)

The Dead had played with the Velvets before - at the 2/7/69 Pittsburg show, it was the Fugs, the Velvets, and the Dead. Now THAT was a show!

I see the Velvets as being the flip side of the Dead - despite a totally different style & sensibility, the musical approach is much closer than is obvious at first. The Velvets were the only rock band I know of to do half-hour freeform improvisations in 1966. (There may have been others though, someone can probably think of a couple.) And while the Dead had Lesh to give them that avant-garde dissonant edge (especially apparent on Anthem), the early Velvets had John Cale who brought a quite different avant-garde slant from his previous noise/drone experiments. Both bands were innovators in using feedback as a meaningful musical statement... (of course they weren't alone, the Who & Hendrix among others were doing the same). The Velvets were consistent in using songs as jumping-off places for long jams, although in this they were very 'of their time' as many bands started doing that in the late '60s.
And of course, both bands called themselves the Warlocks in their early days... Though the Velvets were quite marginal in their own time, I think they were far more influential on later music than the Dead.

At the risk of being repetitive, I'll copy a mostly VU-related exchange I had on another forum -

Ornette Coleman & Cecil Taylor were influences on the VU as well. But I hear more Indian music and more "minimalism" in the VU, whereas I hear more "jazz" in the Dead. I know Lesh has said that Indian music was big for them, but Indian music was big in the mid 60's counterculture and for most musicians in San Francisco at that time too -- it was just something in the air, since Indian music was starting to become more accessible via American record labels, Ravi Shankar making his appearance at Monterey Pop, etc. I think what the Dead took from Indian was the idea of going off forever using one chord as a basis and building in intensity as the "jam" progressed (Coltrane likely took the same thing from Indian music as well; Miles' Kind of Blue uses the same idea of not having any real chord changes, but doesn't really build in intensity as it goes). But Indian music also has a big DRONE component to it: there's always one instrument (usually the tamboura) that's playing a single note that drones throughout the improvisation, which is the superficially "druggy" aspect of Indian music that American pop culture picked up on. The VU totally played that up, whereas the Dead never really did. Didn't John Cale study with La Monte Young as well? That's another key component of the VU sound that distinguishes them from the Dead.

Indian music was quite popular back then - didn't George Harrison have a lot to do with making it more 'mainstream'? (Not just by his own sitar-playing & Indian tunes, but he influenced Lennon as well - if you check out Lennon's songs on Revolver like She Said, Dr Robert, & especially Tomorrow Never Knows, there's some serious drone action going on - the sound that quickly became associated with "druggy" music.)

Yes, John Cale studied with LaMonte Young - actually there's a recording from the Dream Syndicate (with Young & Tony Conrad) which is just ONE NOTE (on two or three violas) sustained for about a half-hour. Now that's a drone! Cale's also released a 3-CD set of some of the noise/minimalist experiments he was doing in the '60s outside the Velvets.

One highly recommended Velvets show is from October '66, a complete 2-hour show (in poor sound, as usual) where they play no less than TWO half-hour improvs (called "The Nothing Song" and "Melody Laughter"), which don't sound quite like anything else. Nico moans over the music, kind of like Donna...
Then by '68, with Sister Ray they had a piece that could be transformed into something different each time they played it. There's one famous show from April '68 where just the INTRO to Sister Ray is a 40-minute quiet trance drone!

One thing I noticed about the Dead's music is that they did not like repetition too much in the jams, the music is always restless. Garcia especially will find some beautiful phrase, repeat it a couple times....and then drop it to do something else, never to be heard again. So we almost never get 'trance Dead' example of that, say, would be the end of a long Franklin's where they stay in the quiet part for a long time.

I wish the Dead had done drones more, but oh well, can't have everything.
I was just listening to the 11-19-66 Dancin' in the Streets (sadly, cuts out in the middle), and Jerry gets into this drone bag in his solo, he'll go BOONNNGGG on the low E and then plays his high notes over that. Wonderful effect. (Sometimes Clapton did the same in his Cream solos - for instance Spoonful at the 9-3-67 show.)

LiA, my guess is that Indian music was something Jerry and Phil would have stumbled across before George Harrison brought it to a more pop audience. I think Ravi Shankar was starting to have albums released and marketed to an American audience prior to the Beatles' endorsement of all things Indian. Here's a good example of something that folks in Jerry and Phil's circle must have been digging:

I suspect that our picture of what the audience heard at a Dead show circa 67-68 isn't all that accurate because we're hearing, for the most part, relatively clear sbd recordings of music that was coming out of fairly ragged PA systems. My guess is that the Dead's 67-68 music, when heard LOUD and pumped through a barely adequate PA system that was being pushed to its limits, sounded a lot more distorted and drone-y then it sounds to us on tape cleaned up with 21st century technology. Consider something like that insane stage-mic'ed 5/18/68 tape with Alligator>Caution. Crank that up as loud as you can and blast it across a field full of tripping heads, and I'm guessing that most of the nuances of the band's interaction would blend and melt together into one giant buzzing wall of sound. Not that that's a bad thing at all.

Phil seemed to dig the drones, though -- there are certainly a few Dark Stars when he's buzzing and rumbling away like a madman. Like, say, oh, 12/6/73!

It was late '65 when the Beatles started expressing an interest in Indian music - quite possibly the Dead were digging Indian music independently - it was a time when lots of things happened simultaneously, very fast. ('65 to '68 or so was probably the most rapid upheaval in rock music we've had....) At any rate, the influence didn't enter their music for some time.
It's funny to think of lots of musicians round the country listening to Ravi and thinking, "Man, nobody knows about this...."

There aren't a whole lot of early Dead AUDs, but when you put something like "1-27-67" or 9-15-67 on (or from '68, 5-18 and 6-14), you get an idea what they sounded like....VERY NOISY. A huge swirl of sounds - the big Viola Lees and Cautions are pure sonic assault. And Pigpen's organ is way louder than you'd expect from the SBDs, it cuts over everything.
If you want to directly compare the difference between clean SBD & noisy AUD, try this - on the "1-27-67" AUD, the Morning Dew and New Potato are the same versions as on the 10-22-67 SBD.

And finally - here's part of an interview with the crabby Lou Reed & Doug Yule in 1970:

LOU: We had vast objections to the whole San Francisco scene. It's just tedious, a lie, and untalented. They can't play and they certainly can't write. The Airplane, the Dead, all of them...
DOUG: They lose track of where the music comes from - they start thinking it instead of playing it. Especially the Dead. Now I saw the Dead when they just started, and they were a bunch of scuzzy kids jsut having a ball playing rock & roll - they were a lot of fun. But then they started thinking about what they were doing too much.
LOU: I can get off understanding the kick it was to play Lovelight.... But they're amateur...they can't play. Jerry's not a good guitar player. It's a joke, and the Airplane is even worse, if that's possible.
DOUG: Jerry, he'll play the same solo for a half hour, but if he'd done it for just two minutes....he plays the same notes over and over again.
LOU: You listen to the Beatles, or you listen to 'Gimme Shelter' by the Stones, and Keith isn't playing many notes, but the notes he's playing are so thought out, so perfect...
Q: But don't you think a lot of people get off on something like the Dead because it's so loose?
LOU: It's what people are settling for....they're getting third-hand blues. It's a fad.... People like Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, all those people are the most untalented bores that have ever lived. Just look at them - can you take Grace Slick seriously? It's a joke. And the whole thing is, the kids are being hyped this on FM radio. Well, now finally it's dead, the whole San Francisco thing is dead.

[Goes on to say he did like the first Moby Grape album & Buffalo Springfield. Hates FM radio, Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, and early Velvet drone-songs with John Cale. Praises Mick Jagger's lyrics. Mourns the breakup of the Beatles. "I don't think people realize how sad it is that the Beatles broke up. That means there's not going to be any more Beatles music.... We were hearing this bootleg tape of the original Get Back album before Spector, and it's really fabulous."]

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Poster: Arbuthnot Date: Apr 20, 2010 5:59pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Velvet Underground (long post)

LiA, thanks much for that exchange, quite informative. I'm not surprised by Lou's impressions/opinions, circa 1970, of the GD and the whole San Francisco sound. In early '60s NYC, the Village, i believe it was the whole Dylan/folk song scene that was what the kids were into. Reed, Cale, Morrison were certainly coming from a very different, more avant-garde and experimental approach to music, and in '69 & '70, years the VU toured extensively, Lou's distaste for the folky stuff carried over to what was popular later in the decade (with the possible exception of the Doors, who i think Lou liked - or am i thinking of Iggy?). I've read that when the VU were performing in their early years ('65-'66), the audiences really didn't know just what to make of the 'music', it was certainly not the Brothers Four, ha ha. It's certainly true the VU, at some places they played, were told in no uncertain terms not to come again. As for similarities with the GD, the VU did have the reputation of never playing a song the same way twice, and as you state, they could certainly extend a 'song' long past the point of saturation. And i realize saying this here is likely taboo, but Reed is one of the great rock lyricists. Early Hunter compositions are certainly excellent, but Lou ... well, his lyrical genius went much longer into his career, and his canon, taken as a whole, tops that of even the GD. My 0.2 cents anyway.

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Poster: William Tell Date: Apr 20, 2010 6:51pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Velvet Underground (long post)

Yes, defn thanks for that, LiA; just chiming in here at your entry, Arb, to second some of your praise for writing of LR (though it doesn't reach me the way Hunter did/does; I just respect/appreciate the art). Also, wanted to note the obvious--I assume the "crabby exchange" was pre Work/Beauty, and thus, Hunter's real breakthroughs (IMHO)...?

Though I had picked up on this before (ie, LR's disdain for our boys early on), had not read this exchange per se in which it is so forcefully stated...certainly in line with what I've often mentioned about how my brothers would comment on the various musical sorts that would arrive from Chicago and points east and just rip the whole SF sound/scene.

Funny too that so many folks posting here get after some of us for being critical of the DEAD (across all the eras)--this exchange just highlights for me how more than a handful of the "players" of the day really did have a poor impression of the DEAD and the SF scene in general.

Interesting that some changed their tune (no pun intended) later on (sorry, can't quote, but we've discussed some before) later in life (ie, commenting more favorably on the DEAD or other SF bands), but in the end, it is enigmatic as to just why (envy? truth? perception of naivete of the summer of love scene? etc., etc.) some expressed such strong sentiments about the DEAD et al. almost right from the start...

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Poster: Arbuthnot Date: Apr 20, 2010 7:26pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Velvet Underground (long post)

While it's true that Lou and his cohorts in the VU and that whole NYC scene he was part of had a disdain for the GD, it is curious why he says they are amateurs. I mean, Lou does know music and he's not exactly a crap guitar player, you would think he would have recognized that the GD knew what they were doing with their instruments. As well, giving that interview, like most any musician, they're in 'character' and what's stated publicly might not be what one thinks privately, or not so harshly. Look at the Top40 Billboard for 1970 and there's no VU, their music was the antithesis of what was being listened to, so hardly surprising that Lou would have negative things to say, even if he really didn't care for the music itself.

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Poster: William Tell Date: Apr 20, 2010 8:16pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Velvet Underground (long post)

Yes, at times I've wondered how much of it was superficial "competition" of sorts (not a precise analogy, or good phrasing, but almost like how sports figures "trash talk" one another perhaps?). Agree completely that some of it (the criticism) seems just plain silly at times (the amateur comment you note), while others are a tad more reasonable ("nobody in SF can sing!" quote we discussed a month or two ago with CREAM/Butterfield/Bishop biz).

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Poster: sntb Date: Aug 19, 2010 7:42am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Velvet Underground (long post)

A bit late...but as I've stated elsewhere, Jerry wasn't too cool to acknowledge his fondness for Lou.
Franklin's Tower being influenced by Wild Side.

And straight up doing the Wild Side bass line in some versions of Sugaree (12/30/78, before the final verse. Jerry plays the famous bass line on guitar).

Funny also that the same year as Franklin's Tower, Lou ripped off the same progression (his own!) on "Charley's Girl".

I was thinking of making a "Franklin's Girl" mash up.